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‘The life of Julia’ and the new frontiers of presidential politics

at 03:39 PM ET, 05/03/2012

On Thursday morning, President Obama’s campaign launched a new interactive infographic — “The life of Julia.”

Her’s how it works:You follow a cartoon woman named Julia from age 3 to age 67. At each step along the way, you learn how she was helped by policies pushed by Obama and how she would be hurt by differing policy prescriptions favored by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Oversimplified? Yes. Slanted to favor Obama? Of course.(This is politics, after all.) Effective? Well, just look at how Republicans responded — by talking about #Julia on Twitter and Tumblr all day.

Here’s Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus:

Fair point. But talking about Julia means talking about women voters and women’s issues, where Obama dominates. And by talking about a fictional woman named Julia, Republicans just drive more people to Obama’s campaign website.

Republicans argue that they did what they should do — confront Obama on the same turf.

“We fought back with a Tumblr post and tweets using the realities for Julia under Obama's economy,” said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. “We have the facts on our side when it comes to women and the economy and we intend to use those while Team Obama dreams up the next gimmick.”

Increasingly, this is the new frontier of modern presidential campaigns. What was once fought solely via television ads and candidate appearances is now fought via infographics and Twitter.

The Obama team has shown how well they understand this new world in the early days of the general election fight. The Obama campaign has already spent almost $19 million on online advertising, much of it used to reconnect to millions of existing online supporters. Obama’s 2008 email list contained upwards of 13 million addresses; in the last campaign the candidate raised half a billion online.

While Obama’s campaign has invested heavily in online media, Republicans have excelled at low-budget comebacks, using humorous tweets to blunt the incumbent’s message.

“The Obama campaign has vastly superior resources in this area,” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican digital strategist. “What you’re seeing is Republicans fighting back using guerilla attacks, with twitter hashtags.”

Republicans have also been working on their own social media innovations. The Republican National Committee recently launched GOP Social Victory Center, a Facebook app that helps supporters share news, meet likeminded people and call voters in battleground states.

Of course, Obama’s campaign had the MyBarackObama iPhone app back in 2008.

The Obama campaign has “invested heavily in data analysis, they have a huge pile of supporter data to sift ... and they’re developing all kinds of creative uses of technology in campaigns,” said Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum. “The only place Republicans have the edge,” he argued, is that “many of their officeholders are more comfortable with social media than the Democrats.”

Yussi Pick, a managing partner at Pick & Barth Digital Strategies, concurred.

“The Republicans might win the game on Twitter, but Democrats are killing it with Email — and Email is still the most important channel for voter contact online,” he said. Minicampaigns like “The life of Julia” help nudge supporters towards more and more involvement, he said — “small steps in what’s called the ‘Supporter Journey.’”

Republicans are still trying to match Obama in tech-savvy innovation. Whether they can be as successful there as they have been on Twitter remains to be seen.

 
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